Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, Colombo, 1st day April 3, 2012

Underrated Jayawardene among the best

It was deja vu on day one in Colombo as Mahela Jayawardene again played an innings to confirm his status as among the best of a generation

This Test series has moved to Colombo, the captains have tossed up again and a new match has started. That may all sound blindingly obvious but for long periods of the opening day at the P Sara Oval it was as though the action was still down the coast in Galle.

James Anderson was outstanding with the new ball, as he is on virtually every occasion these days, and England stuck to their task after Andrew Strauss lost another important toss. But most significantly, there was the man standing between the visitors and, in all likelihood, taking control of this Test as Mahela Jayawardene followed his 180 from last week with a sublime 105.

It was an almost faultless display. He did not offer a full-blooded chance until being trapped lbw by Graeme Swann. In Galle he was given three clear-cut lives. The closest he came on this occasion was a fine edge to first slip off Anderson on 79. By the time he had reached 20 it felt almost inevitable that he would play a leading role. And all this after starting his innings facing a hat-trick ball for second consecutive Test. Jayawardene is not the type to fret but he certainly has not had long to ponder what batting might be like before getting his chance.

Last week he defended the hat-trick ball to mid-off, this time he clipped it off his pads to fine leg. During the innings he added another 10 boundaries and a six mostly with that same deftness of touch. Few other batsmen have caused England such trouble in recent times; Mike Hussey was prolific for the first three Ashes Tests in 2010-11 and Rahul Dravid took huge efforts to dismiss during the series last year. That is both immense credit to the England bowlers and also adds to the brilliance of Jayawardene.

The crucial stand, which zapped England's early momentum, came with Thilan Samaraweera as the pair added 124. Samaraweera could not survive until tea and, perhaps crucially, Jayawardene fell 45 minutes before the close but he had kept his team in the match.

He has a simple philosophy of play late, play straight and at the moment is more than a few notches above anything else in the Sri Lanka team with the possible exception of Angelo Mathews who played excellently to see out the day. Tillakaratne Dilshan is playing in one-day mode - and even then some of shots would be classed as reckless - Lahiru Thirimanne looks out of his depth and Kumar Sangakkara is out of form. No wonder Jayawardene is in early these days.

"We have trouble at the top of the order," Samaraweera said. "Thirimanne is young and needs to have a chance and I think Dilshan will come good in the second innings. But Mahela is in tremendous form. He gave me plenty of advice in the middle."

Jayawardene can comfortably sit among the finest batsmen of his generation yet, you sense, has never quite got the acclaim of some of his contemporaries. He is one of nine batsman with over 10,000 Test runs, a milestone he achieved during the series in South Africa in December and January. Yet that great moment, when it arrived, came with far less fanfare than it had for a Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting or Jacques Kallis.

Being away from home will have played a part in that and it will not have helped that he was run out at Centurion going for the 10,000th run before crossing the line in Durban a few days later. Yet it sums up how Jayawardene can slip under the radar despite a Test average over 50 and a career-best of 374. Twenty-two centuries on home soil put him level with Kallis and Tendulkar leaving only Ponting (23 hundreds) ahead. Even with the fact that many of his runs have come in batting-friendly subcontinent conditions it remains a phenomenal record.

He had also entered this series without a Test fifty in 12 innings but the odds were always in favour of him making amends against England, a team he has rarely failed to prosper against. This is the second time he has made hundreds in consecutive Tests against them, following his 195 and 213 during the previous series in 2007.

He was clearly unhappy when given out lbw, even though the DRS fully supported Asad Rauf, but he will have sensed his departure had given England an opening he had fought so hard to keep shut. This pitch will not get any better for batting so if Sri Lanka can push their way over 300, as they did in Galle, they will be well placed. After all the effort he has put in, anything less than a series victory would not be just reward for Jayawardene.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo